Cable flap shouldn’t be a federal issue

    My wife often accuses me, my sons, local television stations, local radio stations, the local daily newspaper and the entire state of Wisconsin in general of losing proper perspective when it comes to our beloved Green Bay Packers.

    As a proud, colby-eating, beer-drinking Cheesehead, I plead guilty as charged. I swear, if you cut me on a Sunday afternoon, I’ll bleed green and gold.

    That’s why we need voices of reason to remind us of what’s really important sometimes.

    You might expect those voices of reason to come from our elected officials. But alas, it would appear that U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has become afflicted with the same myopic malady that consumes most of us here in Packerland.

    Ryan wrote a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin this week, voicing the concerns of his constituents who will not be able to watch this Thursday’s showdown between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys or several upcoming University of Wisconsin basketball games, due to disputes between cable television providers and the NFL Network and the Big Ten Network.

    "There is something fundamentally wrong with the cable market when millions of Wisconsin residents are denied the choice to watch their local teams on television," Ryan wrote to Martin. "I would urge the FCC to consider changing its rules to facilitate appointment of an arbitrator in disputes like the ones involving the NFL Network and the Big Ten Network, so they can be resolved more quickly (preferably through negotiation between the parties) and with consumers’ interests foremost in mind."

    Now, I’d be willing to bet that Paul, being a native of Janesville, which will be in the blackout territory come Thursday, has been getting his share of phone calls from angry constituents.

    But asking the FCC to appoint a mediator to resolve a dispute between a good old American greedy cable company and two networks that also are trying to monetize their properties?

    Paul, as a free-market Republican, should know better. These disputes are best-resolved in the private sector by the private sector. There are no jobs at stake here. There is no environmental impact here.

    No one’s civil liberties are being jeopardized. Heck, this isn’t even a threat to national security, and no one need be sent to war over this flap.

    As a taxpaying citizen, I am certain that there are plenty of other more important and urgent issues that the FCC should be focusing its resources upon … things like preserving or creating true competition among television programming, cell phone networks and wireless Internet providers. Or how about the issue of limiting the number of radio stations one company can own in a market? And don’t get me started on the issue of privacy!

    Yes, if I lived in the Packers’ blackout territory, I would be upset. I probably would take corrective action and travel to a place where I could see the game. And yes, it’s a shame if Bucky Badger is blacked out because the cable company and the Big Ten Network can’t come to terms.

    But here’s a prediction: Leave them alone. They’ll work it out. The cable company needs the NFL and the Big Ten. The Big Ten and the NFL need the cable company’s subscribers. Ultimately, they will come to their senses, they’ll negotiate a price point and the deal will get done. And we’ll all live happily ever after, even if our cable prices are jacked up again. And if those rates continue to rise far faster than the rate of inflation, then more people will consider alternatives to cable.

    That’s a free market. This flap need not be a federal issue.


    Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times.

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